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People judged more on skin color than race according to new book

Posted Nov 09 2008 10:51pm

At his first press conference as president-elect, Barack Obama self-deprecatingly referred to himself as a “mutt.”   In March, when political opponents insinuated race into the presidential primary, Obama answered with a speech asking citizens to unite over critical issues instead of remaining divided over past history. He asked African-Americans not to be “victims of our past,” and that White Americans acknowledge“that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed.” 

It was only four years ago that the U.S. Justice Department revealed blatant discrimination taking place at Cracker Barrel restaurants, including segregated seating and inferior service for patrons and poor treatment of employees based on race. It was only two years ago that aconsent decree resolved a workplace race and sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Cracker Barrel.  

But last week, Americans “ breached a racial barrier,” as Frank Rich called it, by electing Obama the first African-American U.S. president. 

Is that a clear signal that the nation has turned away from prejudice based on race? Not exactly, according to researchers who authored a new book, Racism in the 21st Century-An Empirical Analysis of Skin Color published by Springer.

Racism “is no longer an issue of black and white,” said Ronald Hall, co-author and editor of the book. Instead, it’s a matter of skin color. Hall and co-authors make the case that lighter-skinned blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and other minorities tend to receive better treatment than darker-skinned counterparts in areas ranging from employment and education to housing, and other areas. Hall is associate professor of social work at Michigan State University and has studied skin color discrimination for 25 years.  

“As we move further into the 21st century, with increased levels of interracial marriage, we won’t be able to make racial differentiations,” adds Hall. “You’re going to have people, for example, with Asian facial features, African hair texture, and Caucasian skin tones – and that’s unprecedented. But the way we’ll continue to assess one another, unfortunately, is going to be based on the manifestations of skin color.” 

Joni Hersch, a co-author and Vanderbilt University professor, wrote that immigrant workers with lighter skin color make more money on average than those with darker complexions.  

The book also states that complaints to the EEOC regarding skin-color based discrimination are increasing. In one recounted example, the EEOC successfully sued the owners of a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, after the restaurant directed the white manager to hire only light-skinned staff to work in the dining room.

Can Obama’s presidency be the transition that will end both overt and subtle racism? All signs are that the son of ablack man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas will not shy away from long overdue action on racial injustice.

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